Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 in Review

A brand new year rings in at midnight tonight, bringing to an end the year that was.

And what a year it was. From the race track to the football field, a lot happened here in the North Country.  More after the jump.

The cross-division battle between the Argyle Scots and the Lake George Warriors lived up to the top billing it deserved.  Entering the game, the Lake George Warriors and Argyle Scots had only lost one game, both to Hoosick Falls.  For awhile in the second half, it looked like Lake George was going to run away with the game, but the Argyle Scots bounced back to force overtime.

However, Lake George won the extra session and earned the 69-63 win to improve to 11-1 on the season.

The first meeting between the Shenendehowa Plainsmen and the Saratoga Springs Blue Streaks hockey teams resulted in a 3-3 draw at the Clifton Park Arena.  So it was believed that the second meeting between these two teams at Weibel Avenue would be equally as close.

It didn't.  Saratoga Springs made their Senior Night special, winning 5-1 to prevent Shenendehowa from clinching the Delvecchio Cup that night.

However, Shenendehowa would get the last laugh, beating the Blue Streaks 5-0 in the Section 2 Championship to advance to the state tournament, where their season came to an end at the hands of Section 1's Scarsdale 4-3.

There were some surprises in the Section 2 Boys Basketball tournament, but none may be bigger than Niskayuna's two point win over top-seeded Catholic Central, who took their one-and-done exit extremely hard.

Meanwhile, closer to home, Lake George's attempt at repeating as State Champions took a terrible turn when Andrew Zibro sustained broken wrists during a flagrant foul during their first round game against Middleburgh.  The injury forced more pressure onto leading scorer Joel Wincowski, and while the Warriors were able to get past Maple Hill without any problem, they found Spa Catholic to be a different story.

The Spa Catholic Saints spotted the Warriors a 13 point halftime lead, and spent their halftime break warming up on the Glens Falls Civic Center court while Lake George was talking things.  The impact was immediate as the Saints erased the deficit thanks to a 20-13 third and 12-4 fourth quarter, and advanced to the Sectional Championship with their 51-49 win.

Spa Catholic would fall to Hoosic Valley 57-54 in the Sectional Championship, just missing on an three point attempt by Ryan Czarnecki.

Hoosic Valley would turn their Class C Sectional Championship into a State Title, defeating Middle Early College of Buffalo 67-55 for the title.  Argyle took the Class D Sectional Title, but fell to Moriah 50-40 in the State Regional Semifinals at SUNY Plattsburgh.

Meanwhile, Scotia and Joe Cremo went perfect to claim the Class A State Title, then won in impressive fashion in the Semifinal of the Federation Tournament over Albany Academy on their way to the Federation Title.  And Green Tech launched themselves to the top of Class AA with their State Title, beating Jamestown 54-49 at the Glens Falls Civic Center to earn their first State Championship in program history.

For the girls, Fort Edward returned to the Hudson Valley Community College thanks to their win over Moriah in the State Regional Semifinals, but their quest for a State Title came to an end in the Championship with their 47-40 loss over Romulus.

A week before the Adirondack Phantoms said goodbye to the fans at the Glens Falls Civic Center (see next item), they were a party to ... well, a game that got postponed due to a party.

The Saturday, April 12th game between the Adirondack Phantoms and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers was postponed after the ice surface was damaged by a rave party the night before.  Soap from the party at Webster Bank Arena found its way through the floor onto the ice below, which left divots on the rink and resulted in the game being postponed until the following Monday.

The Union Dutchmen won their first championship in program history after they beat the Minnesota Golden Gophers 7-4 in the Men's Hockey National Championship in Philadelphia.  Seven different Dutchmen scored a goal in the win, and Flyers drafted prospect Shayne Gostisbehere added two assists to his goal, and was a +7.

Gostisbehere announced a few days later of his intentions to forego his senior year of college and was on the ice for the Adirondack Phantoms for the final weekend of the AHL regular season.

Union joined Clarkson (Women's D1 NCAA) and Plattsburgh (Women's D3 NCAA) as NCAA Hockey National Champions from New York State.

The Adirondack Phantoms wrapped up their campaign in Glens Falls to large crowds, despite being unable to secure a playoff spot in the 5 years the team called the Civic Center their home.  On April 18th, 2014, the Phantoms played the Bridgeport Sound Tigers before 5,586 fans, the largest crowd to venture to the Civic Center during the Phantoms stay.

However, the vibrant mood was wiped away as the Sound Tigers erased a 2-0 deficit, netting a game-winning goal in overtime by Johan Sundstrom.

On April 15th, the City of Abbotsford, British Columbia announced the termination of their contract with the Abbotsford Heat, and immediately there was some hope for the City of Glens Falls to fill the Civic Center with a new hockey tenant.  In early May, it became official, the Calgary Flames would be moving their American Hockey League franchise to Glens Falls to be known as the Adirondack Heat.

On October 11th, the Adirondack Flames made their home debut as they hosted the Albany Devils for the lone meeting at the Glens Falls Civic Center between those two teams.

Horse Racing fans cheered on California Chrome after the three year old colt won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, hoping that he would bring an end to the longest drought in the history of the Triple Crown.

But his bid to sweep the three races came up short in the Belmont Stakes, as Tonalist won the 1 1/2 mile challenge in Elmont, New York.  After the race, owner Steve Coburn blasted how horses can race in the Belmont Stakes after not racing in the other two legs.  His argument was that horses should be required to run in all three, feeling strongly that Tonalist's ability to beat California Chrome came because the former was the fresher horse.

California Chrome never made it to Saratoga Race Course, opting to run in the Pennsylvania Derby at Parx.  Instead, V.E. Day came out of the Curlin Stakes to win the Travers Stakes.  Tonalist finished 3rd.

Jimmer Fredette was released from his contract with the Sacramento Kings in March, allowing him to sign with the Chicago Bulls to play the remainder of his 2013-14 season.  However, the Bulls did not extend an offer to keep Fredette, making the Glens Falls native a free agent.  He signed with the New Orleans Pelicans in July, and all optimism was that Fredette would find the magic that he had with B.Y.U..

Instead, Fredette has yet to make a splash with the Pelicans, scoring a season-high 9 points on December 30th against the Phoenix Suns.

The Saratoga Race Course meet saw many great moments.  Moreno upset Palace Malice in the Whitney, which saw the purse boosted to an all-time high of $1.5 million.  Seek Again set a new track record for a mile on the turf in the Fourstardave.  And as noted above, V.E. Day took the Travers Stakes over Wicked Strong and Tonalist.

But the big feature at Saratoga Race Course in 2014 was the retirement of Tom Durkin.  It was announced in 2013 that Tom Durkin would hang up the microphone after the Saratoga Race Course meet, and it was announced earlier in the meet that Larry Collmus would become Durkin's successor in 2015.  For most of the 39 days, Tom Durkin was present to call the races like he always did, culminating in his call on a rainy Sunday afternoon on the final day of August, when he called his final race, the Grade 1 Spinaway Stakes.  

NYRA concluded the career of Tom Durkin by honoring him in the Winner's Circle after the race, complete with a ceremony.

The Section 2 football landscape was altered by five mergers that allowed players to continue playing football at districts that were otherwise strapped for numbers.  Schoburg, the combined school squad of Schoharie and Duanesburg, reached out and accepted students from Berne-Knox-Westerlo school district to help boost their numbers.  Fort Edward and Argyle joined forces in multiple sports, including football, to help fill rosters for fall sports.  Lake George and Hadley-Luzurne helped combine to become a single football squad.  And Cambridge opened their doors to the Salem Generals to allow those who were interested in playing football to do so, since the Generals were low in numbers and would be unable to form a team.  And Catholic Central joined the already merged teams of Spa Catholic and Bishop Gibbons to become Holy Trinity.

The added numbers helped reduce the number of forfeits in 2014, as Schoburg was the only team of the five listed above who had to cancel a game due to low numbers. 

Lake George scoring standout Joel Wincowski announced in September that he would be taking his talent to University of Maryland-Baltimore County for his collegiate career.  Wincowski, a key piece to the Lake George Warriors State Championship in 2013, will be playing in the America East conference and will face the Albany Great Danes and the Vermont Catamounts on a yearly basis.

The Hudson Falls Tigers didn't make the playoffs in 2014, however they did claim something they haven't in a long time - The Jug.  The Hudson Falls Tigers took advantage of a Glens Falls miscue, an official mistake, and great running by Geno Brancati on their way to the 43-35 win over the Glens Falls Indians.  It was Hudson Falls's first jug win since 1997, and first win against the Indians since 2000.

The following day was a very rainy and wet day as the Cambridge Indians and the Whitehall Railroaders met in a battle of the unbeaten.  The Indians had difficulty holding onto the ball, losing four fumbles and threw two picks as the Whitehall Railroaders won a sloppy game 21-19 over the Cambridge Indians.  

The win gave Whitehall control on top of the classification, helping to yield them the #1 seed in the playoffs.

Days before their home-opener against the Albany Devils, the Adirondack Flames introduced the world to "Scorch", the lone remaining ember from an 1864 fire that engulfed the City of Glens Falls.  Along with this story, the Flames produced a video that showed this mascot overpowering a Glens Falls firefighter.  The public was not thrilled, and the backlash caused the Adirondack Flames to quickly apologize and discontinue all association with the mascot.  The Flames have yet to name a successor to Scorch.  During the Adirondack Flames New Year's Eve game against the Toronto Marlies, the Flames introduced a new mascot named "Dash" the Dalmatian.  

The Queensbury Spartans 20th win in a row was surprisingly without drama as they shut out the Burnt Hills Spartans 42-0 to yield the blue and gold the Northwest Division title.  The Queensbury defense kept Burnt Hills stunned, leaving John Clayton and Danny Maynard with below-average days.  It was the first time since 2004 that Burnt Hills was shut out, and made Queensbury the favorites to repeat as Sectional Champions.

One of the lowest points in local sports this year occurred on October 18th, when the game between the Whitehall Railroaders and the Rensselaer Rams was called off in the third quarter after a second melee broke out during their game.  The game was chippy throughout, leading to several ejections, many accusations, and eventually led to head coach Justin Culligan's firing, despite many protests by players and parents alike for his reinstatement.

The brawl and subsequent firing marred what was otherwise a magical 100th season of football in Whitehall, and resulted in the Railroaders losing out on resurrecting an old rivalry that had been shelved due to classification play.  Instead of playing the Granville Golden Horde in Week 8, the Railroaders instead went and played Holy Trinity.

Whitehall would eventually take the #1 seed into the Sectional Championship, but lost in their rematch against the Cambridge Indians on a drier day in November.

Four of the five Sectional Champions from last year repeated this year.  Cambridge won over Whitehall, Hoosick Falls won against Fonda, Schalmont was victorious over Schuylerville and Queensbury won their fourth game in a row against Burnt Hills.  For Hoosick Falls, it was their 6th straight Championship, which is unprecedented for Section 2.

CBA was the lone team to not repeat, as Shenendehowa was this year's Class AA representative.

The west feasted on the east during the 2014 Football Championships in Syracuse.  Chester and Newburgh both lost in their championship games for Section 9.  For Section 2, Schalmont worked hard to return to the Carrier Dome to gain a rematch against Maine-Endwell, but was overpowered by the Spartans.  And Hoosick Falls couldn't take advantage of four miscues by Chenango Forks as they fell by a touchdown as Forks won their second straight championship. 

The Queensbury Spartans were looking to be the first ever team from Section 2 to win the State Championship back-to-back.  The Spartans jumped to an early 19-0 lead, but saw that lead evaporate as the Indian River Warriors took advantage of a ball-hawking Queensbury defense with misdirection plays.  Soon, Queensbury found themselves down 29-25 at the half with one of their leading rushers, Tyrell Adams, hurt on the sideline with an ankle problem.

The second half went the Indian River Warriors way, as the Spartans had no answers on defense for the Warrior misdirection.  Without Tyrell Adams, the Warriors were able to bottle up the Queensbury attack, limiting the Spartans to 13 second-half points as they would deny Queensbury the back-to-back championship bid with the 63-38 victory.

So what do you remember most about 2014 in local sports?  Are there any we forgot?  

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